A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Archive for July, 2015

What famous people should do

If you are famous, most likely you have a huge following.  What makes a person famous?  Most likely it is something one says or does that captures people’s attention.  The annual distribution of the Oscars, with its millions of fans, tells us that the movie people are famous.

When you stop to think about it, Jesus was also famous.  But he didn’t have mass media to “spread the word” about him , he had only the word of mouth.  In fact, in the Gospel for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mk. 6:30-34) we read that  “People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no leisure even to eat.” (Mk. 6:31)  People were coming primarily to hear him preach.

Jesus was aware of their presence, especially of their secondary motive which was that they were hungry.  The Gospel text tells us that “…his heart was moved with pity for them…” (Mk. 6:34)  Another translation says that Jesus was “compassionate.”

The Greek equivalent of “moved with pity” indicates that the emotions are involved.  The heart becomes the primary motivator.  Because of this, it is the emotional response that becomes much stronger than the physical response alone thus making the response more powerful.

It is important to take into account the fact that Jesus’ emotional/physical response of “compassion” includes both the spiritual and physical elements.  The spiritual elements had to do with the words that Jesus spoke.  This is why the people came to listen to him.  The physical response of Jesus’ compassion had to do with the feeding of the five thousand.  That event follows the day’s Gospel.  (Mk. 6:35-44)

So, what should famous people do?  First of all, I think that all baptized persons are famous for having been incorporated into God’s family, and for having the Holy Spirit help us provide the motivation for dealing responsibly with other people. We choose to be of service.

Secondly, I think that compassion should be the basis for our relationship with others.  Why?  Because our interaction can be not only “Affective,” but  “Effective”  as well, thus making our response total (inside and outside), and quite likely genuine.   Having compassion would most likely give us the root meaning  of “suffering with” (Latin: cum=with; passio=suffering).  When people suffer, we suffer with them.

In the above Gospel,  Jesus’ fame preceded him which made many people come to hear him preach. He also displayed a sense of compassion which meant that he was very conscious of their hunger, and wanted to do something about it.  So he performed a miracle and fed them.

We are all famous because of our Baptism, and consequently have the responsibility to care for others.  We preach to them what Jesus preached to us, namely, justice, understanding, compassion, forgiveness and the like.

In addition to these moral principles, we should also do our best to have compassion on others, namely, suffer when they suffer.  This means being totally involved in being of service to others.  Do what we can.  Consequently, if we want to become famous and maintain that fame, we respond to the needs of others by sharing with them the message of Jesus and allow our sense of compassion to tell us what we can and should do to others.  Preaching the message of Jesus to others and responding compassionately to their physical needs are what famous people should do.





Stormy weather

Many of us remember the devastating tsunami  that hit Japan a few years ago.  In fact, one news source pointed out that San Francisco was effected by it.  In addition, we recall that heavy floods inundated the Midwest here in the United States.

These are but two examples of the harmful effects of water.  In fact, the Hebrew Scriptures point out that water can have damaging effects.  In the creation story, God’s power overcame the troubling waters (Gen. 1:1-2).  There is also the story of Noah’s flood which helped explain the theological theme of election (Gen. 6-9).

In the gospel for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mk. 4:35-41), we read of a struggle between Jesus and the detrimental forces of water.  It appears to be a battle between good and evil. Jesus and some of his disciple were on a boat crossing the sea of Galilee when the boat was overcome by a heavy storm.  The disciples attempt to awaken the sleeping Jesus in order to help them from being capsized.

Then comes the struggle.  Jesus, fully awake, stands and faces the storm, and briefly says, “Silence!  Shut up.”  And the sea was calm again.  It was as if the word had power much as in the creation story in Genesis.  Good conquered evil.

A second significant element in this gospel account are the questions Jesus poses to his disciples after the sea is quelled.  “Why are you fearful?  Don’t you yet have faith?”  The underlying presupposition for this question is that Jesus is there present “with” them which should have been sufficient.

The presence of Jesus with his disciples should have been enough without asking for a public display of power.  This brings us to the ongoing theme of Immanuel  (Hebrew for “God with us”) which is a constant reminder that God has become human in the person of Jesus.  So, presence can be power.  But we have to acknowledge the presence itself.  Indeed, the time of Advent often uses the theme of Immanuel to remind us of the birth of Jesus.

One thing helpful to keep in mind is that “temptation” to sin is much like “stormy weather.”  That is to say that the possibility to commit sin is precisely what temptation is all about–just like stormy weather. Will it rain or not?  The possibility is there.

But belief in the presence of Jesus (the Immanuel promise) with us, is almost a guarantee of calming the storm of temptation.  How can we do it?  I would like to make a couple of suggestions.

First, affirming the effectiveness of our own Baptism.  We have the responsibility of treating others the same way that Jesus  did, namely with compassion, understanding, justice, dignity, and forgiveness.  Action follows belief.  Second, reception of the Eucharist.  It is hard to conceive of any other way in which Jesus can be “with” us than this.

Ultimately, the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist can strengthen our belief that Jesus is with us whenever we are faced with temptations (stormy weather), and that faith will assure us that those temptations can be handled directly and effectively (Jesus quelling the storm.)





Watching grass grow

Watching nature programs on TV has been both entertaining and significant.  Significant because it has been a learning experience for a city boy.  What I found fascinating was the slow motion photography that showed a small seed develop into a blossoming plant.  You could see the various stages of development occur right before your eyes.

In the Gospel for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 4:20-34), we note, much as in slow motion photography, the ongoing development of a seed into a flourishing plant.  In order to speak of the “kingdom of God,” Jesus utilizes the image of the mustard seed because many of his listeners were farmers.

Two questions.  What is the “kingdom of God”? and  Why is the mustard seed used for the comparison?  First,  the “kingdom of God” is a phrase referring to the treatment of others in much the same way that Jesus did, namely, with justice, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.  Second,  Jesus describes the gradual development of a seed from planting to harvest.  The mention of the mustard seed indicates that though it is the smallest of the seeds it grows to become the largest of the plants.  So it is with the “kingdom of God.”  Development comes with growth.

So, what is it that is supposed to happen?  As anyone who is seriously connected with the outdoors knows, there is the presumed growth and development of the seed into a flourishing plant. That potentiality is present.  Thus the possible can become real.

Were we to translate that “possible-to-real” dynamic into our lives, we would be discussing our potential skills and talents.  We all have them.  God has cheated no one.  All we have to do is to find out what they are.  For example, how can I express my sense of justice, understanding, compassion, and forgiveness?  Subsequent prayerful reflection can help us discover our gifts and talents.  Then, we will be in a position to allow the “possible-to-real” dynamic to develop and emerge.

From a farmer’s point of view, the image of a small mustard seed blossoming into a huge flourishing plant would be a good model for the “kingdom of God” spreading throughout the world because of our small efforts.  The fact is that one should not be depressed if small efforts do not immediately manifest huge outcomes.  Remember, the seed needs time to grow and develop.

Taking our Baptism seriously would mean that we are allowing the Holy Spirit to gently nudge us in allowing an awareness of the growth and development taking place within us.  The fact is that we generally tend to associate with like minded people.  The more like minded people with whom we associate, the greater the potential for our small “mustard seed” (gifts and talents) to grow and develop into a huge plant (the “kingdom of God”).

Observing the diminutive mustard seed grow into a prodigious plant is more exciting than watching grass grow.  Why?  Because the “potential-to-reality” dynamic is much more pronounced and obvious.  So should it be with us in terms of our Baptism.





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